Last year, the Supreme Court, convinced by the arguments of Taylor and other plaintiffs, ruled that Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the right of people with a “grievous and irremediable condition” that causes them enduring and intolerable suffering to seek assistance from a physician to end their lives. In the next few weeks, the Trudeau government is expected to introduce legislation in Parliament to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision.
But there is a disturbing possibility that people who would prefer to live out their lives and die a natural death may end up seeking physician-assisted death because they can’t get hospice and palliative care to relieve pain and others symptoms. To allow them to live the final stretches of their lives with dignity, they need adequate health and social services to support them in their last months, weeks and days.
In the coming years, Canadians with life-limiting health conditions, such as Taylor had, will consider making use of the newly recognized right to physician-assisted death. They will be able to decide when life is no longer worth living and make arrangements to die on their own terms.
If a similar provision in the U.S. state of Oregon is any indication, though, only a very small percentage of people may ultimately make this decision. Oregon introduced physician-assisted death in 1998, yet last year only 132 out of about 34,000 Oregonians who died, or about 0.4 percent, did so with the assistance of a physician.
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